Vanderbilt TN poll shows most oppose giving legislators more control over abortion, support marijuana legalization

Most Tennesseans oppose giving state legislators more control over abortion but would like to see marijuana legalized in one way or another, according to a Vanderbilt University poll released Wednesday.

In both cases, the results might seem contrary to the thinking of the state’s Republican supermajority legislature. The same poll, which surveyed 1,245 registered Tennessee voters beteen April 28 and May 14, found the Legislature’s approval rating at 49 percent, down from a high of 65 percent in 2011. (Note: The Vandy slide show presentation of the poll findings is HERE.)

Lawmakers have approved by lopsided majorities a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution on abortion that will be the subject of a statewide referendum in November. It would give the lawmakers more power to impose restrictions on abortion and is aimed at effectively overturning a state Supreme Court decision that threw out abortion restrictions enacted years ago.

The Vanderbilt poll shows posed the question: “Do you favor giving the state Legislature the constitutional authority to regulate abortions or do you oppose this?”
In response, 71 percent of those surveyed said they oppose; just 23 percent said they favor the idea. The rest were undecided.

A separate question asked whether the respondent considers himself or herself “pro-life” or “pro-choice” on abortion. The results 27 percent said they were “definitely pro-choice” and 20 percent “somewhat pro-choice for a combined total of 47 percent while 39 percent said they were “definitely pro-life” and 11 percent “somewhat” pro-life,” for a combined total of 50 percent.

John Geer and Joshua Clinton, a Vanderbilt political science professors and co-directors of the poll, said the results do not necessarily mean the proposed constitutional amendment is likely to fail. For some respondents, they suggested, the opposition may more reflect a concern about giving power to the Legislature than any anti-abortion attitude.

Organizations have been set up to campaign both for and against passage of the amendment with the pro-passage group much better funded so far, according to financial disclosure statement. Geer noted that messages voters hear about the amendment between now and November may have a major impact on the vote.

The Legislature earlier this year rejected legislation to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, requiring sellers to be licensed and purchasers to obtain a prescription and a physician’s certification that they suffer from one of several listed medical ailments. The bill failed in a subcommittee with all Republicans voting against it; the two Democrats on the panel for it.

The Vanderbilt poll gave respondents three options: For legalization of marijuana generally, for legalization, but only for medicinal use and opposed to legalization under any circumstance.

The results should 32 percent for legalization generally and 44 percent for legalization only for medicinal use. Those two results, combined, show that 76 percent favor legalization for some one reason or another, the Geer and Clinton noted. Only 22 percent favored keeping marijuana as flatly illegal.

On some other issues subject to debate in the Legislature earlier this year, the poll found:

–58 percent support for “implementing Common Core standards in Tennessee public schools” with 31 percent opposed. The Legislature voted to delay testing tied to Common Core for a year, though leaving in place implementation of the standards.

–67 percent declared opposition when asked, “Do you favor or oppose allowing Tennesseans to have a gun without a background check and gun owners only being required to get a permit if they planned to conceal their weapon?” Just 28 percent said they favor the idea. The Senate approved a bill allowing open carrying of guns without a permit this year, but the measure was killed in a House subcommittee.

–53 percent said they oppose allowing Tennesseans with carry permits to take guns into public parks while 45 percent favored the idea. The Senate approved a bill to override local ordinances prohibiting guns in city and county parks for persons with a handgun carry permit, but that bill also failed in a House subcommittee.

–56 percent said they favored executions with an electric chair if drugs for lethal injection of death row inmates are not available with 37 percent opposing the idea. The Legislature enacted a law that with that proposition and it has been signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam.

–86 percent said they support the “Tennessee Promise” bill, enacted almost unanimously by the Legislature and signed eight times by Haslam (seven in ceremonial events), that will provide free college tuition for most Tennessee high school graduates starting next year. (Note: AP story elaborating on this item is HERE.)